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Synesius of Cyrene


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

Letter 116, written in 410, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 116: An Apology

To Auxentius

"To the mountain, or the wave of the much-sounding sea".[1] Homer banishes the evils arising from contention, but Philosophy does not allow these even at the first approach to the soul. We are too weak to be philosophers, at least I am, but nevertheless we do not at all wish to conduct ourselves in a less worthy manner than those men of arms about whom the poem was written.

I therefore borrow this over verse from Home, who says somewhere: "Do you begin, for you are younger in years."[2] May there be no conflict, but if it comes, may the youngest begin it, for some such thing as this was in Poseidon's mind when he made way for a god younger than himself to open the conflict. It is the part of the elder to be the leader in noble actions, and the noblest thing of all is concord.

In my case, not merely am I older than you, but I am even already an old man. As Pherecydes says, you can see it in my skin. Therefore the matter of an apology devolves upon me. If the man who is first wrong, ought always to be the first to give in, and if you wish me to be that man, I grant this also for your sake. For since I first made a claim on you, it is right that I should at once accord you a favor which you desire.

Note 1:
Homer, Iliad, 6.347.

Note 2:
Homer, Iliad, 21.439.
Online 2007
Revision: 17 August 2007
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